This remarkable city of Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka’s most sacred town and has some of the most extensive ruins in the world. This city served as a great monastic centre. It remained residence and royal capital for over 100 successive Sinhalese Kings for around 1500 years from the 4th century BC to the 8th century AD, after which it was abandoned and the capital moved to Polonnaruwa.
Anuradhapura has eight main places of veneration, known as “atamasthana”. They are;
The Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest historical tree in the world, is a cutting from the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya in India under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. For sure this is one of Sri Lanka’s greatest religious icons and symbolizes the greatness of the Buddha. In around 250 BC this sacred tree was brought to Sri Lanka by the daughter of the great Emperor Asoka of India and sister of Arahat Mahinda, the monk who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
The following places are venerated monuments known as dagobas or stupas. Mostly shaped like a tea cup turned upside down, the significance of theses dagobas lies in the fact that one or more sacred relics of the Buddha are enshrined within the walls.
Known as the “great stupa” Ruwanweliseya is undoubtedly just that. A perfect dome standing over 300 feet tall with a diameter of 370 feet, the massive Ruwanweliseya is possibly the most sacred dagoba in the entire island, as it is believed to house the largest number of relics of the Buddha. Construction of this great dagoba was thought to have started during the reign of King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BC.
As with most historical monuments in Sri Lanka, Ruwanweliseya has a deep connection with Buddhism. The dome shape of the dagoba is thought to be the perfect milk bubble shape, representing the Buddhist philosophy on life… the bubble of life which will burst in no time like the fragility of our lives.
Built in the shape of a heap of paddy, this dagoba is considered to be the first in Sri Lanka, following the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka by Arahat Mahinda. The collar bone of Lord Buddha is believed to have been enshrined here. The Thuparamaya as it stands today is after several renovations, having once been completely ruined
Situated between the Sri Maha Bodhi and Ruwanweliseya, is the Lovamahapaya. Also known as the Brazen Palace, this ancient 9 storey building was built in 150 BC as the monk’s residence for the monks of the Mahviharaya Buddhist University. At any given time, the Lovamahapaya was supposed to have housed 3000 monks! The bronze tiles that were used to cover the roof, gave this building the name, the Brazen Palace. It was thought to have taken 6 years to build this magnificent building. What we see today represents the Brazen Palace in ruin.
The Abhayagiri Dagoba built around 88 BC with an original height of over a hundred metres is one of the tallest monuments of its nature in the world. This dagoba was more than just part of a complex of monastic buildings. Abhayagiri gained popularity as a fraternity for Buddhist monks, attracting scholars from all over the world across all nuances of Buddhism and as such its influence can be traced to other parts of the world. The 3rd century AD saw the golden age of Abhayagiri, and when the Buddha’s Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka the 4th century, Abhayagiri was selected to house the relic for public veneration.
Apart from being a religious monument, the Abhayagiri Dagoba also serves as a symbol of national resurgence, as the king who built this great monument did it to fulfill a vow that he made when he was compelled to flee his kingdom. 14 years following his exile, the king returned, overthrew the Dravidians and regained the kingdom. This era marked the end of Brahmin and Jain influence in the country.
The Jetavanaramaya is a dagoba located in the ruins of the Jetavana Monastery in Anuradhapura. At a height of over 120m, Jetavana Dagoba is the largest dagoba in Sri Lanka and among the tallest monuments in the world. A part of a sash or belt tied by the Buddha is believed to be enshrined here.
This is a stupa that was built in the 1st century BC and an important place of worship for Buddhists.In and around Anuradhapura there are many other ruins and important places of worship. A few other interesting historical places worth visiting are;
Isurumuniya was built in the 3rd century BC as part of a monastic complex. This temple is best known for its rock carvings, the most popular being “the lovers”. The style of the sculpture resembles the Gupta Art of India.
The Samadhi Statue in Anuradhapura is believed to be a masterpiece of sculptural art and dates back to around the 4th century BC. The statue is 8 feet high and made of granite. The statue shows the Buddha in a deep state of meditation.
A few miles east of Anuradhapura lies Mihintale, a 300m peak in a mountainous range with a splendid view of the countryside. The story of Mihintale goes way back to a full moon day in the month of June around 250 BC, when Arahat Mahinda was believed to have come from India to preach the doctrine of Buddhism. As the story goes, Arahat Mahinda met King Devanampiyatissa and converted the king and his court to Buddhism. Following this, the Mihintale Rock became a monastery and sanctuary.
To this day Mihintale is revered by all Buddhists alike. And especially on Esala Full Moon Day, which falls in the month of June, pilgrims make it a point to climb Mihintale and pay their respects.
Declared as a world heritage site, the city of Polonnaruwa is the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms. Polonnaruwa was the medieval capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to the 13th century AD. However, it was supposed to be inhabited long before this from around the 2nd century BC.
The reign of King Parakramabahu in the 12th century AD is known as the Golden Age of Polonnaruwa. During his time trade and agriculture flourished and Polonnaruwa was completely self-sufficient. The King was adamant that no drop of water falling to the earth should be wasted, but instead be used for development of the land. Hence superior irrigation systems were developed, far superior to those of Anuradhapura. Even today, these systems supply water to the paddy cultivations during the dry season in the east of the country, and remains one of the best planned archaeological relic sites in the country. In terms of architecture you’ll notice a cocktail of Anuradhapura, South Indian and a unique Polonnaruwa style of building. The kings who followed were unable to achieve the same greatness as King Parakramabahu, and this great ancient city fell into decline.
While a large number of places of historical and archaeological interest are scattered over a large area in Anuradhapura, in Polonnaruwa a large number of places can be seen within a much smaller area.
Polonnaruwa has probably the largest number of Hindu temples spread out amidst Buddhist shrines. Compared to the larger Buddhist shrines, the Hindu temples can be considered small but significant in design and execution, with a definite Hindu character conforming to an orthodox religious architectural tradition.
Also known as the Sea of Parakrama, a tank so vast that it is often mistaken for the ocean. It is of such a width that it is impossible to stand on one shore and view the other side. It encircles the town like a ribbon, being both a defensive border against intruders and the lifeline of people in times of peace.
King Parakramabahu’s Palace must have once been an imposing structure, and historical records describe it as 7 stories high with a 1000 rooms. The large halls, royal pleasure gardens complete with royal baths, intricately carved stone pillars, grandiosely decorated windows and the fabulous architecture used to build this palace, are characteristic of this great era.
This sacred quadrangle contains some of the earliest and most sacred monuments of Polonnaruwa. The central unit here is the Vatadage or the circular relic house. An elegant and beautiful work of art.
In the same quadrangle are many other buildings, all image houses;
The Thuparama – the largest Buddhist image house
The Nissankalatamandapa – a very pretty pavilion
A Bo-tree shrine
The Hatadage – a shrine of 60 relics
Satmahal Prasada – a square pyramidal tower in 7 tiers is a Dagoba with a unique design
Galpota – A massive 8 meter long and 403 meter wide stone slab is inscribed with the deeds of a king of Polonnaruwa
Is the most celebrated site in Polonnaruwa and one of the most famous in the whole island. It is known for its large rock-cut images which are in a perfect state of preservation. Across the face of the rock is (1) a seated Buddha image in deep meditation (2) a sculpture inside a cave out of sold rock (3) a standing Buddha statue 7 meters high (4) the Buddha lying down.
A monastic university. The area extends over 80 hectares. Excavations have exposed some of the most unique and significant buildings of the Polonnaruwa period. The brick-built image house of Lankathilaka with its 41 foot colossal Buddha statue occupies the center of this space. Is without doubt one of the most impressive ruins of this ancient city.
The capital of the central province and the Kandy District, the city of Kandy is both an administrative and religious city and one of the most scenic cities in Sri Lanka. The palace buildings, shrines and the British period buildings all give Kandy a special character, while the religious importance of the tooth relic and the annual procession of the Dalada perahera contribute a dynamism and unique cultural importance to the historic hill capital. In 1592 Kandy became the last capital of the Sinhala Kings in Sri Lanka, after the coastal regions had been captured by the Portuguese. Kandy preserved its independence by successfully repelling invasions by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, until it finally fell to the British in 1815. The geographical location of Kandy was very important in creating a natural defense strategy. The city was built in a valley surrounded by 3 mountain ranges and the Mahaweli River which forms a triangular boundary.
Kandy has played an important role in Sri Lankan history not only as the last capital of Sri Lanka but also as the last bastion of the Sinhala culture that flourished for more than 2000 years. Fortunately Kandy has preserved certain aspects of the performing arts, architecture and religious practices of by-gone civilizations. Kandyan architecture has a distinct character of its own which is comfortable rather than luxurious. The buildings are smaller in scale, and simpler in appearance, but refined in detailing.
As the capital Kandy became home to the Tooth Relic of the Buddha which symbolizes a 4th century tradition, that links royalty with being the protector of the Tooth. The Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century. Often referred to as the palladium of the Sinhala kings, it was protected and venerated by the King who built a temple for it within the royal palace. This happens to this day. The building which housed the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha was always considered an extremely important edifice and was thus located next to the palace. It became a building of great importance and was well decorated and carefully looked after.
Was built in the 15th century and currently houses the most sacred Buddha relic, the Tooth of Lord Buddha.
The Dalada Perahera held continuously in honor of the sacred Tooth Relic is famous the world over. The pageantry unfolds through 10 nights each year with colorfully caparisoned elephants, drummers, dancers and chieftains.
Built on a rocky outcrop, the temple is reached by a long series of steps cut directly into the rock. The temple is full of exquisite painted scenes of the lives of 24 former Buddha’s and there is a colossal seated image of the Buddha.
Built in the 14th century. This temple has been completely built from wood, and is famous for the unique wood work and the splendid carvings. A deistic shrine is dedicated to the God of Kataragama. The wood art of this temple is astounding with dancers, swans, soldiers on horseback, floral emblems and double headed eagles to name a few. Special treasures are the doorways of sandalwood.
This temple is built almost exclusively from stone in the 14th century and sits on a hilltop with commanding views of the countryside. The Gadaladeniya rock Temple is famous for its stone carvings. The structure of the temple is influenced by South Indian architecture.
A city with the perfect blend of past and present, the native and the colonial. Galle is located at the extreme southwest corner of the island where the shoreline turns east towards Matara and Tangalle.
Galle Fort was first built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and then modified by the Dutch during the 17th century. During this time the fort became Sri Lanka’s main port and centre of trade and commerce among the Persians, Arabians, Greeks, Romans, Malays and Indians. The Galle Fort is one of the best preserved examples of 17th century colonial fortifications in the world and is on the UNESCO list of world monuments. In fact today, much of what visitors see of the Galle Fort is a reflection of the way Galle Fort was during the time of the Dutch. When the British took over Galle for the Dutch in the 18th century they did little to alter or eradicate any of the Dutch structures or influences.